The Sikh celebration of the return of the sixth Nanak from detention in the Gwalior Fort coincides with Hindu festival of Diwali. This coincidence has resulted in similarity of celebration amongst Sikhs and Hindus. The Sikhs celebrate this day as Bandi Chhorh Divas i.e., “the day of release of detainees”, because the sixth Nanak had agreed to his release on the condition that the other fifty-two detainees would also be released. These other fifty-two detainees were the vassal kings who had done something to annoy the emperor. Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned the sixth Nanak because he was afraid of the Guru’s growing following and power. The Sikhs on this day, which generally falls in october-November, hold a one-day celebrations in the Gurdwaras. So in the evening, illuminations are done with Deewé (earthen oil lamps) or candles and fireworks. The celebrations are held both in the Gurdwaras and in homes. The story of Divali for the Sikhs is a story of the Sikh struggle for freedom. From the time of Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539), the founder of Sikhism, popular seasonal or folk festivals like the harvest festival of Vaisakhi, or ancient mythological festivals like Holi and Divali, or worship rituals like Aarti, began to take on a new significance for the Guru’s students, the Sikhs. The Guru used these festivals and special days e.g. first day of each lunar month, as symbols or pegs for his teaching themes.

    And so the Sikhs were slowly diverted from darkness of superstitious ritualism based on fear and ignorance to an enlightened ideology based on reason and belief in One Creator. The enlightened ideology of Guru Nanak gave new significance to ancient festivals like Divali and Vaisakhi So what about Divali, the festival of lights when, according to Indian lore, Lord Rama returned home after destroying the demon god Ravana who had taken away Rama’s wife, Sita? The story, of course, has no significance in the Sikh tradition. However, in the Sikh struggle for freedom from the oppressive Mughal regime, the festival of Divali did become the second most important day after the Vaisakhi festival in April. The Sixth Guru Hargobind, was freed from imprisonment in the famous fort of Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir in October, 1619. The reason for the young Guru’s imprisonment was no more than religious bigotry. The Guru’s father, Guru Arjan, had been martyred for the same reason. According to Sikh tradition, the Guru agreed to be freed only if the other Indian chiefs (rajahs) imprisoned with him were freed. Jahangir was under pressure from moderate but influential Muslim religious leaders like Hajrat Mian Mir, a friend of the Guru. So he relented grudgingly and ordained, Let those rajahs be freed who can hold on to the Guru’s coat tails and walk out of prison.

    He had in mind no more than four or five being freed with the Guru. However, the Guru was not to be outmanoeuvred in this way. He asked for a special coat to be made with 52 coat tails – same number as the rajahs in prison with him! And so the rajahs were freed and the Guru became known popularly as the Bandi Chhor (Deliverer from prison). He arrived at Amritsar on the Divali day and the Har Mandar (now known as the Golden Temple) was lit with hundreds of lamps i.e. he was received in the same way as the Lord Rama and the day came to be known as the Bandi Chhor Divas (the day of freedom). Guru Hargobind reached Amritsar on the eve of Diwali, after his release from Gwalior fort, during the reign of Jahangir.The People illuminated the Golden Temple and the city splendidly to celebrate the return of their Guru to the city. Thereafter, Diwali is being celebrated at Amritsar with great pump and show, and also with a lot of religious fervour. During the fair, religious congregations are held at Manji Sahib, Akal Takhat and Baba Atal which continue for three days. A large number of poets and singers also participate. Recitation of Granth Sahib is done at Darbar Sahib, Akal Takhat and various gurudwaras in the vicinity of Golden Tample. Early in the morning, pilgrims take a holy dip in the scared tank, while reciting Japji Sahib and thereafter, they go to the Golden Temple for paying their obeisance.

    They make offerings of various kinds both in cash and kind, such as flowers, candy-drops and parched-rice grains, but mostly the offerings are of karah parshad. which is prepared and sold to the pilgrims by the management. Circumambulation of the tank is considered sacred by the pilgrims. Illuminations and pyrotechnic display are the unique features of the Diwali celebrations. A mammoth gathering in the parikarma and on the adjoining buildings witness to their great delight the multicolored lights thrown up in the sky and their reflections in the water of the tank. Chain of the electric lights hang along the causeway and on the Darshani Deorhi. Small earthen lamps lighted and fed with sarson oil are arranged in lines all around the tank. All buildings in the compound are bedecked with coloured lights. Candles and small earthen lamps fed with pure ghee are floated in the tank. This fair is attended by people in the large numbers who come from far and near. A large number of visitors take shelter in the verandahs of the various buildings in the premises. All local inns, rest houses and other common places are packed to capacity. The free mess, called Guru Ram Dass Langar, remains open for all. The whole function is organised by Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandhak Committee. During the fair, qualified doctors render free medical service to the pilgrims. Thenceforth, the Sikh struggle for freedom, which intensified in the 18th Century, came to be centred around this day. In addition to the Vaisakhi day (now in April), when Khalsa, the Sikh nation was formally established by the Tenth Guru Gobind Singh, Divali became the second day in the years when the Khalsa met and planned their freedom strategy.

    On the occassion of Bandi Chorrh Divas, Sikhs observe a one-day celebrations in the Gurdwaras. In the evening, illuminations are lighted with Deewé (earthen oil lamps) or candles and fireworks are also bursted. Such celebrations are held both in the Gurdwaras and in homes.

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    Another important Sikh event associated with Divali is the martyrdom in 1734 of the elderly Sikh scholar and strategist Bhai Mani Singh, the Granthi (priest) of Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple). He had refused to pay a special tax on a religious meeting of the Khalsa on the Divali day. This and other Sikh martyrdoms gave further momentum to the Khalsa struggle for freedom and eventually success in establishing the Khalsa rule north of Delhi Bhai Mani Singh was a great scholar and he transcripted the final version of Guru Granth Sahib upon dictation from Guru Govind Singh ji in 1704. He took charge of Harmandir Sahib’s management on 1708. Diwali was not celebrated in Golden Temple at that time. In 1737, he received permission from Mogul emperor of Punjab, Zakaria Khan for celebrating Diwali at Golden Temple for a massive tax of Rs. 5,000 (some authors say it was Rs10,000). Invitations were sent to the Sikhs all over India to join Bandi Chhorh Diwas celebrations at Harmandir Sahib. Bhai Singh thought he would collect the tax-money from the Sikhs as subscriptions who would assemble for the purpose of Diwali Celebrations. But Bhai Mani Singh Ji later discovered the secret plan of Zakariya Khan to kill the Sikhs during the gathering. Bhai Mani Singh Ji immediately sent message to all the Sikhs not to turn up for celebrations. Bhai Mani Singh could not manage to arrange the money to be paid for tax. Zakariya Khan was not happy about the situation and he ordered Bhai Mani Singh’s assassination at Lahore by ruthlessly cutting him limb-by-limb to death. Ever since, the great sacrifice & devotion of martyr Bhai Mani Singh Ji is remembered on the Bandi Chhorh Diwas (Diwali) celebration.

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